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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers

What can the Silver and Black do to split their inaugural mid-season series with the Lakers?

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a game of numerous first for the San Antonio Spurs as they lost to the Lakers 121-107 on Wednesday night. Not only did the Silver and Black get their first glimpse of a revamped Los Angeles squad, but they made NBA history in the process, with assistant Becky Hammon becoming the first woman to serve as head coach in a regular-season game.

Dejounte Murray also achieved a personal milestone, scoring a game-high and career-high 29 points on a remarkably efficient 12-of-19 performance from the field. Unfortunately, an exceptional individual effort wasn’t quite enough to fuel the good guys to a come-from-behind victory at home to spoil the visiting LeBron James’ 36th birthday bash.

Popovich and company have had two days to rest and recalculate their game plan for the second leg of their two-game midseason series with the Lakers. LaMarcus Aldridge appears ready to rejoin the Spurs after dealing with knee soreness, and as long as they don’t miss eight layups in the first half again, this could easily be a more competitive rematch.

San Antonio Spurs (2-2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (3-2)

January 1, 2021 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: NBA TV, FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Knee — Questionable), Quinndary Weatherspoon (Knee — Out)

Lakers Injuries: Alex Caruso (Health and Safety Protocol — Out)

Protecting the Three-Point Line

San Antonio didn’t concede a ludicrous amount of triples in their loss to the Lakers on Wednesday night, but they were still outscored 42-30 from downtown and struggled to protect the perimeter. Los Angeles made them pay for the open looks they surrendered to a tune of 53.8% shooting from beyond the arc, which ultimately sealed the game.

Although other issues certainly caused the Spurs to drop to .500 for the season, teams that allowed their opponent to knock down half of their long-distance attempts went 25-101 a year ago. And while teams that held their opponent under that mark weren’t guaranteed victory, they put themselves in a better position to win, sporting a 1034-958 record.

A few of the shots the Lakers drained looked more like answered prayers than routine makes, and you can reasonably attribute some of their three-point production to luck. Keeping that in mind, San Antonio will have to do a substantially better job of suffocating Los Angeles’ outside attack if they want to negate their size and personnel disadvantages.

Battling on the Boards

Securing the perimeter is only one of the ingredients necessary to hold an opponent in check during the age of pace-and-space basketball. And despite traditional big men rapidly approaching extinction as the hoops landscape evolves, winning the nightly rebounding battle remains among the most crucial aspects of the game for most successful franchises.

San Antonio went 9-26 last season when their opponent out-rebounded them, and they are 0-2 four games into this season when faced with that statistical outcome. Both losses have come against rosters with superior frontcourt depth and size, and it’s no surprise the Lakers reeled in eight more boards than the Spurs with LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined.

San Antonio’s All-Star big man should return to the lineup for their Friday night rematch with the Purple and Gold after sitting the last out of the previous outing with knee soreness. And though he hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations in his three appearances, adding a near-seven-footer will only help the Spurs compete on the glass.

Avoiding Foul Trouble

I fervently felt the Spurs got shortchanged by the officials throughout the contest on Wednesday evening. And while that was the case in a few instances, I found they did a relatively shoddy job for both sides upon a second viewing of the action. Several fouls went uncalled, and whistles were inconsistent, but blaming the referees would be low hanging fruit.

Though this may come as a shock to those who sat through 48 minutes of San Antonio’s latest loss, the Spurs ended the outing with six fewer fouls committed and three more free throw attempts than the Lakers. Early foul trouble for Jakob Poeltl and a handful of beneficial calls for LeBron on his birthday likely made this one seem a bit one-sided, but don’t be fooled.

LaMarcus or Jakob getting into foul trouble isn’t ideal for most matchups. And they’re particularly indispensable for the Silver and Black when going against an organization that’s home to Anthony Davis, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol. The Zebras always have a hand in deciding the outcome of games, but players must read the tone and adjust accordingly.

For the Lakers fans’ perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.